Lauren Willig

"The Temptation of the Night Jasmine"

(Reviewed by Lori Lamothe MAR 15, 2009)

Lady Charlotte Lansdowne is a bookish 20-year-old who wants to believe in such unlikely things as unicorns and trustworthy men. So when her very distant cousin Robert Dovedale returns to England after more than a decade spent as an officer in India, it isn’t long before Charlotte begins imagining herself as the heroine in one of her dog-eared romance novels. Unfortunately Robert has an entirely different agenda: he has sworn to avenge the murder of his mentor and commander, Colonel Arbuthnot, who was shot in the back by one of his own men during a battle in India. The traitor has returned to England and is now hobnobbing it among the nation’s rich and famous while conspiring with the French to infiltrate the highest levels of government.

Though Robert is increasingly drawn to Charlotte’s innocence, his efforts to obtain justice for Arbuthnot lead him straight to the latest version of the infamous Hellfire Club, a secret brotherhood that engages in mysterious rites and bouts of debauchery. After an intense kiss on Twelfth Night, Robert is forced to choose between his loyalty to his former mentor and his feelings for Charlotte. Penning a hurried farewell note, he rushes off to an unknown destination—and out of Charlotte’s life.

Meanwhile Charlotte, who is suffering not only from the loss of Robert but of her girlish illusions as well, soon finds herself privy to a secret that could alter the future of England. It’s a secret that Robert would very much like to know but after his seemingly cruel treatment of her he is the last person Charlotte is willing to trust. Instead she recruits her friend Henrietta and the two find themselves engaged in a bit of espionage themselves. Instead of dreaming about unicorns and marriage, Charlotte is forced to shed her cautious nature and risk her life to save the king. Not too surprisingly, she and her fallen knight eventually cross paths. Their efforts to unravel the mystery inevitably lead to something more—just not by the flowery route Charlotte had previously envisioned.

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine was a bit difficult to get into at first; the second half of the book was much better. Charlotte’s innocence is necessary for her character development and makes sense in retrospect; however, her naivete was hard to relate to and I found myself skimming forward to the chapters told from other characters’ perspectives. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t read more than my share of unicorn books as a kid—or that I don’t still fall prey to the usual relationship delusions—but merely to admit that I’m at a point in my life when innocence as a point of view isn’t all that riveting. Perhaps part of the problem was that I never really “got” the romance between Charlotte and Robert. Despite the inevitable bumps along the way—and despite the fact that I came to genuinely like both characters—their courtship always seemed a little too predictable, a little too perfect.

What made the book worth reading for me was the rich setting and the humorous “Austenesque” tone. The historical backdrop was colorful and well researched (or at least it seemed to be, in this laywoman’s opinion) and the dialogue was sprinkled with amusing references to Shakespeare and other Brit lit superstars. Ever since The Madness of King George came out, I’ve always wondered about the nature of the king’s illness and Willig puts an interesting twist on this royal mystery. I also liked the secondary characters, especially Charlotte’s friend Penelope, who refuses to adhere to “proper behavior” and ends up engaged to a rake who can’t hold his liquor. Though it was only minimally developed, the frame story—which centers on Eloise Kelly, a graduate student working on her dissertation in England—also appealed to me. I identified with Eloise’s insecurities and fanciful imaginings regarding her new boyfriend, as well as her fascination with historical research. I would be happy to see more of both Penelope and Eloise in future installments.

Willig’s latest book is the fifth novel in her bestselling historical romance series, which includes The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, The Masque of the Black Tulip and The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. A quick visit to her website informed me that she wrote the first three while attending Harvard Law School and is now writing full time. Considering the level of perseverance and dedication her genesis as a writer suggests, I doubt readers have seen the last of the series. Though I would have liked to have begun with her debut novel, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine was a clever, entertaining diversion for a rainy day.

  • Amazon readers rating: starsfrom 18 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Temptation of the Night Jasmine at author's site

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"The Secret History of the Pink Carnation"

(Reviewed by Carisa Richner FEB 17, 2005)

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig is a perfect novel to tuck into your beach bag this summer. It’s an effective blend of chick lit (a term which I hate, but seems appropriate) and a traditional historical romance novel – sort of a Bridget Jones meets Elizabeth Bennet. The story is actually a book within a book, taking place both in current day London and in England and France during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte in the late 1700’s.

The overarching story concerns Eloise Kelly, a self-deprecating and disorganized doctoral candidate at Harvard who is researching the identity of “The Pink Carnation,” an English spy who infiltrated Napoleon’s court but whose identity has never been revealed. After fruitless searches throughout London libraries and archives, she succeeds in finding a descendant of “The Purple Gentian,” another English spy who plagued France during the same period. Going on the theory that the Purple Gentian must have known who the Pink Carnation was, Eloise is anxious to examine any documents Mrs. Selwick-Alderly may have in her possession. Luckily, Mrs. Selwick-Alderly gives her free access to a treasure trove of documents. However, her nephew Colin Selwick seems hostile to Eloise’s attempts to uncover the identity of The Pink Carnation.

As Eloise reads the papers, we read along with her. Amy Balcourt is a plucky French exile living in England. Her brother, who remained in France and now owns the family estate, calls her back to France. Amy is frantic to go, not necessarily to join her brother, but to join forces with The Purple Gentian. Tales of his exploits have made the English papers, and Amy is determined to locate him and join him as his partner in order to exact revenge on the France for the deaths of her mother and father.

After begging leave from her aunt and uncle, Amy boards a ship bound for France with her cousin, Jane and their chaperone, Miss Gwen, who ends up scolding Napoleon for invading Italy later in the novel. On the ship they meet Lord Richard Selwick, who is, in fact, The Purple Gentian. Unable to reveal exactly why he is serving in Bonaparte’s court as an antiquities advisor, Richard suffers from Amy’s conclusion that he is a traitor to his country. In a twist on the typical historical romance tradition “I hate you but I must have you,” Amy tries to resist her attraction to Richard, while falling in love with the Purple Gentian, who she tries to “help” but which ultimately ruins his masquerade.

There are some refreshing characters and situations in this novel. For instance, Amy’s chaperone is hilarious, as is Richard’s interfering but imperious mother. However, the history lover in me wanted more Napoleon and more Eloise, less sexy banter and inappropriately modern dialogue. Both story lines are left wide open; we never see if Colin’s hostility turns to something else, or what The Pink Carnation did to warrant his/her fame. Titillating questions for another summer at the beach.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 134 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Secret History of the Pink Carnation at the author's website

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About the Author:

Lauren WilligLauren Willig is a native of New York City. She attended Yale, where she majored in Renaissance Studies and Political Science, then studied graduate level early modern European history at Harvard before entering and graduating from Harvard Law School.

Lauren signed her first book contract during her first month of law school. She finished writing "Pink Carnation" during her 1L year, "Black Tulip" her 2L year, and struggled through "Emerald Ring" as a weary and jaded 3L. Still, Lauren received her J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

She practiced as a litigation associate at a large New York law firm for a year and half. She decided that book deadlines didn't mix and departed law to write full time. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014